Russian president Vladimir Putin has admitted for the first time that there are Russian military specialists stationed in east Ukraine.
Despite significant evidence showing that Russia has a military presence in the region and the conflict, Russia has denied it up until now. During a long, comprehensive press conference on Thursday, Putin conceded that Russian military intelligence officers are operating in Ukraine.
One hour into the press conference, Putin stated that, “We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere.”
There was no further discussion regarding how many specialists were in Ukraine or their specific role.
During the conference, Putin also fielded questions about Syria, perceived corruption, the current crisis in Russia-Turkey relations and the Russian economy.
He took a strong position with respect to Turkey, telling reporters that if Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet was an accident, Turkish officials could have called Moscow rather than NATO.
Putin quipped that, “Someone in the Turkish leadership tried to lick the Americans in a particular place, I don’t know whether the Americans needed that.”
Putin reiterated that Russia remains committed to its campaign in Syria until a political situation is worked out. He further said that Russia’s position “broadly coincided” with that of the United States.
Putin stated that, “We will carry out air strikes and support Syrian army offensives for as long as the Syrian army carries them out.. Russia’s (Syria) plan, in principle, broadly coincides with the view put forward by the United States. That is joint work on a constitution, creation of oversight mechanisms for a future democratic election, the election itself, and recognition of its results.”
The main issue between Russia and the United States is how the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, fits into Syria’s future. The United States wants al-Assad to step down but Moscow not-so-secretly supports al-Assad and feels it is “up to the Syrian people” to decide.
Putin did say that he is ready to improve his country’s relations with the United States.